The Myth of Black Freedom in the U.S.

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

417px-Frederick_Douglass_portraitTo some of us the transition from slave to citizenship by those Africans brought in chains to these shores for economic exploitation and horrific abuse ended with the “Emancipation Proclamation”. To others its’ end might have been marked by “Brown v. Board of Education”, or by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Those of somewhat more insightful bent may have said that the true emancipation occurred when Barack Obama was elected President in 2008. In my view, as much of an impact as all those milestones (and more such as Jackie Robinson i.e.) made to American consciousness, Black people in the United States clearly still lack the benefits and rewards of citizenship. I would go further and say that in the United States, at this time; most Black people still suffer the degradation and challenges brought about by both institutional and emotional racism. This is not to say that in our country other groups, such as Latino’s and Native Americans are free of oppressive prejudice, but to assert that given their history in this country Black people are slotted into the bottom of the economic and social ladder and are still struggling to obtain even those most minimal of rights that most Americans see as their birthright.

This article is a very personal one for me, even though I am not a Black American. As someone born in 1944 I have lived through a great deal of significant Civil Rights history and even contributed to the struggle albeit in a minor way. As a Jewish kid from New York, born into a progressive family, my experience with Black people was minimal until the age of eighteen. There were no non-Whites in my High School, for instance. Yet as someone from a large family, where both set of grandparents immigrated to this country, we as Jews were quite aware of the Country’s innate prejudice towards ourselves and many of us translated that awareness into understanding the prejudicial plights of other ethnic groups. In America though, even among Jews, as each new wave of immigrants found success and acceptance many among them viewed Blacks with disdain believing something to the effect of “If I and mine “made” it, why can’t they. What’s wrong with them? The following will be my personal explanation for “what’s wrong with them” and to me the inevitable conclusion will be what’s wrong with us, the US being this country.

The first African slaves were brought to Virginia in 1619. As the centuries passed this was seen by those profiting from it as a fortuitous economic innovation. Pre-Revolutionary American also had another longstanding, economically exploitive and fortuitous use of lowering labor costs known as indentured servitude. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indentured_servitude  European immigrants sign a legal document committing them to a certain term of service as “servants”, during which time they received no pay, only food and lodging. They could be discipline through beatings and their contracts were fully enforceable by law. The practice began to die out with the proliferation of African slaves, since the Blacks had a lifetime obligation of service which ended at death, they were economically more feasible a solution. With history memory fades quickly, especially if a whole cottage industry of media propaganda has been produced to “smooth” its edges. “Birth of a Nation”, one of the most cinematically acclaimed films of all time, present Blacks as rabid sub-humans, who required a heroic Ku Klux Klan to keep them in line after the Emancipation. “Gone with the Wind” an even more financially successful film portrays the Blacks in it as sort of loyal simpletons who wouldn’t know how to exist without white people to give them guidance. Racist, denigrating portrayals of Blacks ran rife through the American Cinema and indeed the arts. Stereotypes become universal mythological archetypes and even many of those who believed in freedom for Blacks were skeptical of their capabilities for acting as average citizens.

Looking back at the history of Black slavery in America, I believe we need to re-emphasize an aspect of it that though well known, is usually given intellectually short shrift as to its long term effects. Genocide comes in many forms. Given Twentieth Century history genocide connotes outright murder such as those committed by the Turks against the Armenians, the NAZI’s against the Jews, homosexuals, Gypsy’s and mentally incapacitated. We can add Stalin’s “agricultural reform” via murder, Pol Pot’s political purification via the “killing fields” and the various tragic genocides taking place in Africa today. Yet in that past Century we have another example of a less murderous, but no less horrific genocide as exhibited by Mao’s “Cultural Revolution”. This was an effort less to murder people and more to provide them with a harshly imposed re-education and as such I see the “Genocide” of American slavery as a pre-cursor of Chairman Mao.

Except for instances of sadism, or extreme disciplinary example, it was not the intent of the American slaveholder to murder his/her slaves. They represented property and wealth. They could be put up as chattel for loans and they could be sold for profit. The “smart” slave investor wanted to keep his “property” healthful and in good shape for possible profit via sale. What that investor, entrepreneur may we say, didn’t want was any particular slave believing that they had the right to do anything but serve the will of their Master. Cultural genocide was what was imposed upon the captive Africans, to destroy any memories of their past history and to dent them the normal human comforts of wives and family. The truth, conveniently ignored by common history books to sugar coat the horror of imperialist exploitation of Africa, was that existing there was rather strong and sophisticated cultural heritages. These were not “savages” falling upon each other in constant strife and living unsophisticated lives as “jungle denizens”, but rather richly developed cultures that had a sophisticated cross-cultural interdependence. That some of the more powerful tribes sold their fellows into slavery was not a good thing, but actually slavery in the Western world’s history goes back to our “cultural forebears” the Athenians, the Trojans, the Carthaginians and of course the “glory” that was Rome. Human’s tendency to exploit other humans for personal gain seems endemic to our history as we see today in our “great banks”, or phony entrepreneurs like Mitt Romney.

Slaveholders in America needed to ensure docility by expunging the African memories and identities of “their” slaves by renaming them, destroying personal bonds such as marriage and parenthood, and most importantly teaching their unwilling slaves that all the stereotypes of their inferiority were true. They succeeded fairly well in many cases. I could put in here the actual truth that the slaves were highly resistant and developed their own intellectual and cultural movements, including many rebellions, but if you don’t know of the lives of Frederick Douglas  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Douglass  and Nat Turner http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nat_Turner it might profit you to do a little research. Nevertheless, the slave holder propagandists did have widespread success in their genocide of cultural destruction, abetted by the mass media and certain historians forgetfulness of the true history of American slavery.

The “Abolitionist Movement” in America gained strength to the point of electing an American President who shared somewhat similar sentiments. One of the bloodiest wars in history was fought on American soil and in the end the forces of Abolition seemed victorious. Lincoln was of course murdered only days after the Gettysburg surrender and replaced by a somewhat less committed and capable President Andrew Johnson. While the plans for “Reconstruction” had been drawn prior to the Civil Wars end, Johnson’s ability to fully implement it and truly give freed Blacks the chance at full citizenship and freedom was limited by the deal he had to make to keep from being impeached. Slavery was over but “Jim Crow” replaced it with a system no less harsh and certainly no less murderous. Historically and in the doctrines of our courts “Jim Crow” was the law of the land and Black people were for the most part not allowed the normal rights of American citizens, most importantly the right to vote.

What is forgotten in all of this is the psychological effect this condition of “Jim Crow” had upon Black Americans, particularly males. Imagine living a life where you are not only constantly under suspicion for mischief, but extremely likely to be incarcerated or lynched for innocent actions? Imagine having to step into the gutter when encountering a white person on the sidewalk? Imagine being afraid to look a white person in the eye for fear of being charged with the “crime” of being “uppity”. Imagine being educated in severely under funded school districts, with poverty the impetus to drop out early to work and with lack of books to help one in their study? Imagine having to take a “literacy” test to vote, or having to pay a “poll tax” in order to vote? Imagine seeing angry policeman staring at you as you approached a polling place and knowing that they could beat you senseless just for the fun of it? Imagine being called “Boy” by someone years younger and your life in danger if you don’t acquiesce?

Imagine as a father being unable to find, or hold a job as easy as your wife and the shameful baggage that goes with the knowledge you are unable to support your family? Imagine needing welfare assistance for your family to survive, yet having to either move out of your home, or pretend not to live there lest the Welfare authorities cut off your family’s entire assistance? Imagine living a life of having to suffer constant humiliation and degradation of your self-esteem? What I’ve just written only briefly touches upon the psychological genocide that was inflicted and still is being afflicted upon the Black portion of our people.

That so many Black people have thrived, despite all of these difficulties, is a tribute to the intelligence and talents of this portion of our population. That such a rich cultural heritage has been produced by Black Americans is a similar paean to the strength of their culture and to the many examples of true genius that exists amongst them. So yes in America we have a Black President, many distinguished Black legislators, educators, entertainers and sports stars. I would assert to you that while on an individual basis that is a cause for celebration, on an institutional basis things have not really progressed much beyond “Jim Crow” and we may actually be entering a time of retrenchment if we don’t see the ominous signs.

Last week my fellow guest blogger Lawrence Rafferty made this excellent contribution: “Probable Cause..Black, Latino and Young”. http://jonathanturley.org/2013/03/24/probable-cause-black-latino-and-young/#more-62063  In it he discussed the ongoing New York City “Stop and Frisk” policy instituted by Mayor Bloomberg and his Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. While the trial isn’t over the evidence is pretty conclusive that for the past decade people of color have been targeted by the NYPD simply based on their appearance:

“According to department data, the NYPD has made roughly 5 million street stops in the past decade, the vast majority of those stopped being young African American or Latino men.  Nearly nine out of 10 of those stopped by police have walked away without a summons or arrest.” 

Explain to me please the difference between these actions and those Blacks lived through during “Jim Crow”? Now due to his media savvy I have no doubt that Mr. Bloomberg, that champion of the elite, has publicized this to the point where we think it is simply a New York City phenomenon. In truth this is common practice all over this country and especially in places like Los Angeles, San Diego and Joe Arpaio’s famed Maricopa Country. Indeed in all of Arizona one can be stopped for driving as a suspected Mexican. Seriously, can you deny that in the “formerly Jim Crow” South this is still not a common practice?

A companion piece to this is something that I have previously written about: “The Incarceration of Black Men in Americahttp://jonathanturley.org/?s=The+incarceration+of+black+men+in+america

 To quote from that piece:

“Black males continue to be incarcerated at an extraordinary rate. Black males make up 35.4 percent of the jail and prison population — even though they make up less than 10 percent of the overall U.S population. Four percent of U.S. black males were in jail or prison last year, compared to 1.7 percent of Hispanic males and .7 percent of white males. In other words, black males were locked up at almost six times the rate of their white counterparts.”      

http://www.laprogressive.com/law-and-the-justice-system/boiling-hot-mad/.html

How can we honestly say given the above, if you accept it, that Black people share equality of citizenship with their fellow Americans? The “stop and frisk” actions lead to predominantly minor charges, that despite guilt are plea bargained away due to lack of viable legal representation. Arrests and jail records make finding gainful employment harder, which leads to a kind of “what the hell” despair that imbues the psyches of may Blacks, despite their intelligence, strength of character and the stability of their communal connections. We still live in a land of “Jim Crow” and those who pretend we do not are either politically and/or racially motivated, or suffering from denial in my opinion. To any who might dispute my conclusions, or think they are based upon lack of evidence beware, because the evidence of this fact is so overwhelming that this guest blog would run into the tens of thousands of words were I to produce them. Until all of our citizens, despite their backgrounds are treated on an equal basis than the idea of our Constitutional Republic is a mere sham. It must seem so for so many people of color.

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger.

98 thoughts on “The Myth of Black Freedom in the U.S.”

  1. Those with a serious interest in this and related topics will enjoy reading:
    “Trouble In Mind..Black Southerners in the age of Jim Crow”, by
    Leon Witwack, Pulitizer Prize winning author.

  2. To the deniers, here is an example of a proper government response after it is clear that they have gone all rogue and mavericky against the people:

    Australian prime minister Julia Gillard delivered a historic national apology in parliament on Thursday to the thousands of unwed mothers who were forced by government policies to give up their babies for adoption over several decades.

    More than 800 people, many of them in tears, heard the apology and responded with a standing ovation.

    “Today this parliament, on behalf of the Australian people, takes responsibility and apologises for the policies and practices that forced the separation of mothers from their babies, which created a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering,” Gillard told the audience.

    “We acknowledge the profound effects of these policies and practices on fathers and we recognise the hurt these actions caused to brothers and sisters, grandparents, partners and extended family members,” she said.

    “We deplore the shameful practices that denied you, the mothers, your fundamental rights and responsibilities to love and care for your children,” she added.

    (Guardian). If you or I cannot apologize for the wrongs we do then we fall short of the concept of being humane.

  3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZayKoFgPj0

    Just like a birdie
    I just wanna fly free
    So high, so high
    And own a piece of land
    Somewhere, somewhere
    Off in a country
    Oh, oh yeah, listen
    Temperature like a hundred degrees
    Like I got chains on me

    Black male and a family of 3
    Been robbed of my destiny
    Reckon Ill fly away
    Cause its too much for this man
    Shouldnt a gone down this way

    What happened to my masterplan
    Cause I cant figure out
    I could have been a love child
    Shouldnt a gone down this way
    Tell me, how did I get life

    Chorus:
    Life life
    Life life
    Life life
    Life life
    (repeat)

    Oh somebody done done me wrong
    Done me wrong
    My eyes to the ceiling all night long
    All night long
    Time is slippin away from me
    Away from me
    And it aint no tellin when Ill get home

    Gotta get home, yeah
    Just about to see the dollar sign
    Thats close to a peace of mind
    And everything was about to be fine
    So tell me
    So how did I get life

    Life life
    Life life
    Life life
    Life life
    (repeat)

    Everything
    I hoped for
    Is gone now
    Buried in the ground
    Hopes and dreams
    And all those things
    Ill never see, said Ill never see

    Somebody gave me life
    Yeah yeah
    Yes they did
    Ooooooooooooooooh life

  4. Add to “driving while Black” the obvious “real suspicious” activity of “walking while Black.” I bring up the Trayvon Martin murder case again. Anyone who could have listened to the NEN call made by George Zimmerman before he shot Trayvon Martin would realize that his real complaint against the youth was that HE did not know what Martin was doing, and he felt that he, as a superior being, had a RIGHT to demand an accounting from the kid. That was his motive in approaching the kid and that was HIS reason for escalating the whole thing into a killing. To accept his after-the-fact explanation that he was the victim of an unprovoked attack was illogical to the point of being absurd, but there were plenty of people, including lawyers, including well kinown Constitutional lawyers, who gave that ridiculous idea play. The fact that it took two million signatures on a petition and massive demonstrations in the streets for more than 40 days to even get charges leveled against the gunman demonstrates how hard it is for the Black Community to be seen as EQUAL in our society. It could not be more obvious that an unarmed white kid gunned down by a Black man with assault and a protective order in HIS past would have received a lot more respect from law enforcement than Trayvon Martin received in Florida.

    Even now, there are legal scholars who insist that Murder-2 is the wrong charge for George Zimmerman and that the prosecutor should have either let him go or charged him with some sort of “accidental” manslaughter charge. WHY? Because his victim was not equal to a dead white kid.

    Until a Black kid can go to the 7-11 and walk home safely, how free is he? If he has a life interest in voting, doesn’t he have a life interest in living long enough to get registered to vote?

  5. Mike S:

    Stopping people while black is a violation of rights. It is as that Rand quote above says, you cannot judge an individual based on the actions of others within a similar group of people.

    Therefore to stop people because of their race is a despicable act. I dont see how a person could view it any other way.

  6. I have had two opportunities to stand in front of the window in the hospital maternity ward and view my newborn daughters. Both times there were a number of other newborns sharing “the neighborhood”. The truth of the equality of all human beings is at no time more self evident or greater than seeing 6 hour old babies side by side. It is not they that feel a superiority, or inferiority.
    Our prejudices are created by the ignorance of parents, society, culture, and religion. The baggage of the past is heavy on the bent shoulders and well trudged feet of the elders in the environment these newborns will soon be raised in.
    Old dogs often become old farts, immune to the putrid smells they were raised in, succumbed to, and now proliferate.
    We are all innocent and equal at 6 hours old. We all begin the same. Then Shat happens. ….. and too many of us get used to the smell.

  7. Bron,

    I apologize for putting you in the same company as others, especially because your Frederick Douglas speech quote was excellent. I am curious though about what you think, sans politics, of the two links I provided above, particularly Raff’s on NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk”.

  8. “Libertarians are incapable of being racist,” he has said, “because racism is a collectivist idea, you see people in groups.”

    Elaine,

    Thanks for the Paul info and the quote above which I find hilariously ridiculous.

  9. How Ron Paul’s Libertarian Principles Support Racism
    By Jonathan Chait
    1/2/12
    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2012/01/how-ron-pauls-libertarianism-supports-racism.html

    Excerpt:
    The furor over the racist newsletters published by Ron Paul in the nineties is, in some ways, more revealing than the newsletters themselves. In a series of responses by Paul and his supporters ranging from anguished essays to angry dismissals to crazed conspiracy diagrams (check out page seven), the basic shape of the Paul response has emerged. Paul argues that he was completely unaware that, for many years, the newsletter purporting to express his worldview consistently expressed vicious racism.

    This is wildly implausible, but let’s grant the premise, because it sets up the more interesting argument. Paul’s admirers have tried to paint the racist newsletters as largely separate from his broader worldview, an ungainly appendage that could be easily removed without substantially altering the rest. Tim Carney argues:

    “Paul’s indiscretions — such as abiding 9/11 conspiracy theorists and allowing racist material in a newsletter published under his name — will be blown up to paint a scary caricature. His belief in state’s rights and property rights will be distorted into support for Jim Crow and racism.”

    The stronger version of this argument, advanced by Paul himself, is that racism is not irrelevant to his ideology, but that his ideology absolves him of racism. “Libertarians are incapable of being racist,” he has said, “because racism is a collectivist idea, you see people in groups.” Most libertarians may not take the argument quite as far as Paul does — many probably acknowledge that it is possible for a libertarian to hold racist views — but it does help explain their belief that racism simply has no relation to the rest of Paul’s beliefs. They genuinely see racism as a belief system that expresses itself only in the form of coercive government power. In Paul’s world, state-enforced discrimination is the only kind of discrimination. A libertarian by definition opposes discrimination because libertarians oppose the state. He cannot imagine social power exerting itself through any other form.

  10. Ron Paul and Libertarianism’s Dirty Secret — Pandering to Racist “Rednecks” to Get Ahead
    Years ago, a bunch of libertarians decided to act like huge racists to win votes.
    by Alex Pareene
    December 22, 2011
    http://www.alternet.org/story/153551/ron_paul_and_libertarianism's_dirty_secret_–_pandering_to_racist_%22rednecks%22_to_get_ahead

    Excerpt:
    It is a fact that in the 1990s Ron Paul sold a newsletter in which a bunch of racist comments were published under his byline. We now also have evidence that Paul is lying when he claims not to have read the racist newsletters, which were most likely written by Lew Rockwell.

    The fact is, Paul has lied like a very old-fashioned sort of politician about these newsletters, and he has been lying for years. He has gone through the motions of public regret about their contents, but has never acknowledged knowing who wrote the offensive material or even being aware that offensive material went out under his name. That’s bullshit. Now he ducks questions on the subject entirely (and his supporters complain that it’s “old news,” because they have no serious defense of the comments or Paul’s responsibility for them).

  11. Thanks for this balanced treatment. This is a subject that ALL Americans need to know more about. There is way too much ill-informed political correctness associated with this subject. Thanks for clearing the air a little.

    I found an interesting book the other day, written by the editors of The Hartford Courant – the longest running, continually printed newspaper in the US. This book added a lot to my understanding of how completely the pre-1861 economy of the US depended upon slavery.

    “Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged and Profited From Slavery” – an interesting historical study of all of the ways that the North participated in this pernicious practice.

    The study was prompted by the public apology that Aetna Insurance (headquartered in Hartford, CT) had to make for having promoted life insurance policies on slaves, with the slave-owners as beneficiaries. The quintessential tip of the iceberg.

    As Harriet Beecher Stowe said so famously at the time: “Northerners have slavery just they way they want it – all of the benefits and none of the screaming.”

    1. ccrider27,

      Thank you for that Hartford Current information. One of the benefits for me in writing these blogs is the new information and perspective that I derive from the ensuing discussion.

  12. here is what 2 of my favorite economists/philosophers has to say on the subject of racism and its roots:

  13. Mike Spindell:

    Thanks for putting words in my mouth, did I say racism didnt exist? Nope, I know it does and have seen evidence of it in many races. What I said was that people should look at each individual as unique and not as part of a race or culture.

    It is much easier for libertarians, Randians, conservatives to do that because we believe in the individual and not the collective as the primary unit of society.

    Here is what one of my favorite philosophers has to say on the subject:

    “Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.

    Racism claims that the content of a man’s mind (not his cognitive apparatus, but its content) is inherited; that a man’s convictions, values and character are determined before he is born, by physical factors beyond his control. This is the caveman’s version of the doctrine of innate ideas—or of inherited knowledge—which has been thoroughly refuted by philosophy and science. Racism is a doctrine of, by and for brutes. It is a barnyard or stock-farm version of collectivism, appropriate to a mentality that differentiates between various breeds of animals, but not between animals and men.

    Like every form of determinism, racism invalidates the specific attribute which distinguishes man from all other living species: his rational faculty. Racism negates two aspects of man’s life: reason and choice, or mind and morality, replacing them with chemical predestination.”

    “Racism,”
    The Virtue of Selfishness,

  14. “Oh give it a break already !! It is impossible not to see the economic & social advancements of negroes since emancipation.” M.J. Marsalek

    “What we need to do is stop blaming one race or another and simply be Americans.” Freeasabird

    “All people should lay their predjudices aside and take each person as an individual and not as a member of a particular race or culture.” Bron

    “Allow me to give you some background. Firstly, as you can probably tell, this pablum is all theory as is much of what you’ll read here.” Nick S.

    All those statements above are unresponsive and irrelevant to the argument I’ve made here. What I’m writing about obviously is institutionalized racist attacks on people of color. By institutionalized I mean government at the Federal, State and local levels. By way of proof I personally put in two links that I think make the case: http://jonathanturley.org/2013/03/24/probable-cause-black-latino-and-young/#more-62063 and: http://jonathanturley.org/?s=The+incarceration+of+black+men+in+america . Both those links offer ample evidence of institutional racism that exists today and which does irreparable harm to all people of color. Besides that Elaine, RWL and others have added other valuable links that further prove my case.

    I find it interesting that none of those whose comments I listed above addressed any of the issues and proof proffered, yet disputed my position by the use of bland statements implying that racism is a thing of the past, or by singular anecdotes significant of nothing. Their denial, while possibly well-intentioned, only acts to exacerbate an issue that remains of paramount importance to the unity of our country. If they have actual evidence that the harmful institutional racism that has been detailed by myself and others is a chimera perpetrated by Blacks seeking extra privileges I would be open to examining it and perhaps a profitable discussion might be had. Thus far though these comments offer little that is useful and much that is pernicious to a vital national discussion that must take place if we are ever to heal the racial divides in America.

    The trouble with the media-driven political debate that drives this country today is that it has substituted making statements of dubious content for presenting actual cogent arguments with a factual basis. This is illustrated by the presentation of Evolutionary Theory and Creationism upon equal footing. Taking it to this topic the media gives equal heft to those who point out continuing institutional racism in law enforcement, with those that deny that racism exists at all today.

  15. Oh give it a break already !! It is impossible not to see the economic & social advancements of negroes since emancipation. How much longer do people whose ancestors had absolutely nothing to do with slavery have to make reparations to an entire race of people whose ancestors may or may not have been touched by slavery. By way of casual observation, most white social conservatives can listen to Ben Carson speak for hours while many in this same group can’t stand the sight of Barack Obama let alone listen to him even for one minute. So far as anyone knows, If Americans are to judge people by what people say and do, rather than the color of their skin, it is working.

  16. I think this is Republican Racism: “The South: A near-solid block against ‘Obamacare’”

    A South Carolina legislator put it bluntly earlier this year. State Rep. Kris Crawford told a business journal that he supports expansion, but said electoral math is the trump card. “It is good politics to oppose the black guy in the White House right now, especially for the Republican Party,” he said.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/30/obamacare-block_n_2985587.html

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